The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 1 Issue 6

Friday, 6 Sep 1985


o Joseph Weizenbaum's comments
Dave Parnas
o Good Risks and Bad Risks
Dave Brandin
o Hot rodding your AT
Dan Bower
o Hazards of VDTs and CRTs
Al Friend
o crt & non-crt risks
Brint Cooper
o The Case of the Broken Buoy
Herb Lin
Matt Bishop

Joseph Weizenbaum's comments <JOSEPH@MIT-XX.ARPA>: sdi]

Dave Parnas <vax-populi!dparnas@nrl-css >
Thu, 5 Sep 85 07:28:56 pdt
    Although there is a great deal of truth and wisdom in Weizenbaum's 
message, I believe that he overlooks the reason that SDI would be
destabilizing and another step in the Arms race.  It is not because
of the stated goals of the program (Reagan's March 1983 speech) but because
those goals are not achievable.  There would be nothing wrong with rendering
ICBMs and other weapons obsolete.  On the contrary, everyone should want to 
see every country, city, and town protected by an impenetrable shield that
would free it from the fear of the indiscriminate horror that rained down on
Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  It is because the SDIO efforts will not lead to 
technology of that sort, that SDI is the things that Weizenbaum says it is.

     I agree with Weizenbaum that we need to seek non-technological
solutions.  Technology is not likely to provide solutions in a situation 
where we oppose a power with equally sophisticated technology.  

    I believe that SDI is one issue where both disarmament and armament
supporters could agree.  Both sides seek peace through different mechanisms,
but neither will find their goals advanced by an untrustworthy "shield".


Good Risks and Bad Risks

Thu 5 Sep 85 11:40:30-PDT
To: Neumann@SRI-CSL.ARPA

Peter: I love your material that's being generated and produced, but I note
that it seems to weigh overwhelmingly against the computer.  Aren't people
sending you any GOOD stuff?  Like with the aid of a computer, 27 lives were
saved, etc.?  Like using the new NEC fingerprint computer, they were able to
match the Stalker's finger-prints in 3 minutes, etc?  Maybe you need a Call
for Good News?  


Good Risks and Bad Risks

Peter G. Neumann <Neumann@SRI-CSLA.ARPA>
Thu 5 Sep 85 23:32:45-PDT

Today's SF Chronicle had a nice article on "Computer Holds Promise in
Diagnosing Heart Disease", in greatly reducing the number of false
negatives.  But even there are significant risks.  Suppose you or your
doctor trusts the computer program more because it indeed has fewer false
negatives, and now you produce a false negative.  We are back to the case of
the woman who killed her daughter and tried to kill herself and her son
because the computer program had falsely produced an "incurable"
diagnosis.  (See the July 85 issue of Software Engineering Notes.)

Well, in the first issue of RISKS I recall saying there has got to be more
to this forum than just pointing out negative things.  I noted hope from the
research community, although one of the agonizing things that we have
observed in the ACM Special Interest Group on Software Engineering (SIGSOFT)
is the enormous gap between the research community and what is actually
being done in practice.  For critical systems, the ordinary software
development techniques are simply not good enough.

Yes, we should of course point out successes.  For example, the Shuttle
project has had many — along with its much more visible problems.  


Hot rodding your AT

Wed, 4 Sep 85 14:41:38 EDT
In a recent issue of PC Magazine, Peter Norton espoused the idea of
substituting a faster clock chip to enhance performance.  Now, according
to the folk on the Info-IBM PC digest, this may create problems.  An
off the shelf PC AT is composed of components guaranteed to work to
IBM spec, e.g. 6 Mhz.  If I increase the clock rate, then the whole
rest of the machine has to be up to snuff.  If not, a part dies and
I pay a nasty repair bill.

Now if I took Mr. Norton's word as gospel, swapped chips and set
my PC AT on fire, would he be liable?  How about the publisher?

Hazards of VDTs and CRTs

Al Friend, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command <friend@nrl-csr >
Thu, 5 Sep 85 15:23:05 edt
When evaluating the risks associated with various forms of technology
it is sometimes useful to have in hand the available data.

The Food and Drug Administration published a study in 1981:

               An Evaluation of Radiation Emission
                     Video Display Terminals

                   HHS Publication FDA 81-8153

The ionizing, optical, RF and acoustic radiation from a number of
terminals was measured.  I will briefly quote some of the conclusions
of this study.

For ionizing radiation:


  Sufficient research information is available to estimate a range of
  risks of injury from ionizing radiation exposure.  Delayed disease,
  such as heritable mutation or cancer, usually forms a basis for the
  estimation, expressed in terms of the instances of the effect per
  person per unit of radiation (rad,rem, or R).  The risk estimates
  form a basis for radiation protection guidelines.

  For a VDT operator, the radiation protection guideline for 
  individuals in the general population is appropriate.  The gui

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